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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Bad Grandpa is the latest entry in the Jackass franchise (if that can be considered a franchise). Unlike the previous installments and television show, Bad Grandpa features a coherent narrative intermixed with several hidden camera elements. Being a fan of the Jackass franchise, I was looking forward to this movie (especially with its fresh approach). However, the film, while very funny, comes up just a little short in the end.
Bad Grandpa features Johnny Knoxville as his old man character, Irving Zisman, who needs to transport his grandson, Billy (a wonderful Jackson Nicoll), across country to reunite him with his deadbeat father. It is a very simple storyline, but that really is enough for these characters to get into a whole host of hijinks and trouble. With a title like Bad Grandpa, it should not be too much of a surprise that Irving is a horrible influence on Billy given the situations he places them in with zero remorse (such as crashing a wedding, petty theft, driving over signs, etc.).
The key to the humor in Bad Grandpa is, of course, the very real reactions to the stunts and outlandishness of Knoxville and Nicoll. This has always been the hallmark of Jackass. Unlike others of its ilk, the hidden camera stuff here is never at the expense of the “victims”. True, the jokes come from their reactions, but unlike Borat, it is never mean spirited towards the strangers they encounter. I appreciate that more and that makes it much more entertaining.
Unfortunately, the hidden camera stuff is really where the film somewhat falters. Most of the time, the pranks are mildly funny at best. Don’t get me wrong, when it hits, it hits (I point to a diner scene in the second half of the movie). But there are long stretches where I just found myself chuckling quietly. I guess the point I am trying to make is that I really wish the film was funnier or pushed the ridiculousness more. On top of that, many of the more-hilarious sequences were spoiled in the trailer, which lessened the impact when they came up in the film.
Here is the strange part. The film’s real strength is its heart. Granted, Irving is not a good influence, but he and Billy form an incredibly sweet bond which gives the film an incredible amount of emotion. So, while the jokes may not be as strong as I personally would have liked them to be, there is enough going on elsewhere in the film that kept me invested.
With that, I have to single out Jackson Nicoll. Child actors can be rough at times, but this kid is great! He does the more “dramatic” (for lack of a better word) stuff very, very well. He sells his conflicting feelings. But, and this is even more impressive, he is incredibly quick on his feet with the man-on-the-street pranks. I do not know if he was being fed lines or was improving it himself, but I was blow away at how clever and natural his delivery was.
At the end of the day, I would recommend Bad Grandpa. If you already like Jackass, you will probably like this. The best way to check this movie out is to see it late at night with a group of friends (perhaps a few beers in your will help). The shared experience makes the film that much funnier and more enjoyable.